In this series on adult bullies, we have looked at the Accusing Bully who has a need to make you their scapegoat so they don’t have to look at their own shortcomings. We have also examined the Bitter Bully who may have started out as someone close to you, but when your life took off in some great way, the Bitter Bully became threatened. Both of these adult bullies are driven by their insecurities. Not so for the next bully. Calculating Bullies are driven by rage. They want your life full of misery and are willing to be the vessel to make that happen. Wonderful, right? Even though we may not want to acknowledge that terrible people exist in the world, they do. We are naïve to think we will never cross paths with someone who would love to see us fail.
Who are these Calculating Bullies? They could be a family member, co-worker, someone pretending to be a friend or romantic interest. They can also be people we meet while involved in a ministry or church. Basically, there are multiple ways a calculating bully can enter your life. My hope is that being able to identify how these folks operate will help you to create solid boundaries around a calculating bully so their poison doesn’t fully engulf your life.
I am often asked why Calculating Bullies set out to pick apart someone’s sense of self-worth and goodness in life. This form of adult bully encompasses both the accusing nature and bitterness of the previous bullies we have already discussed. They take those unpleasant character traits and add gasoline on top.
From my personal experience having run into this type of bully, and as a professional counselor, I believe there are a few key methods the Calculating Bully utilizes and I want to share two with you today.
“You Will Not Have What I Cannot Achieve”
This inner-dialogue is similar to the Bitter Bully but the intensity is different. The Bitter Bully often uses passive-aggressive methods to let you know that your success or joy has stepped on their toes. The Calculating Bully will try to remove those items from your life. They go to great lengths to use flat-out lies about you to smear your reputation. They will call in their troops to further spread the hateful message of the Calculating Bully. They will target you and try to make you look incompetent in whatever way fits the environment. If the Calculating Bully is in a family, they may discredit you as an adult child or parent to your own children. If the bully is within a workplace, the Calculating Bully could sabotage you by going behind you and changing your work to have it include errors that you did not make. If it is in a church environment, the Calculating Bully will spread rumors about you to make leadership question your appropriateness for ministry.
These adult bullies are out for blood. They feel no shame about how they try to reach their goal of destroying you and everything you have achieved, but they have not.
“I Will Make You Think Everyone Hates You”
The Calculating Bully wants you to feel isolated. They desire to know that you feel rejected and left out. It makes them smugly happy. In reality, your rejection is usually just smoke and mirrors. Sometimes they are able to achieve a successful smear campaign and people do actually turn away from you. More often, I have witnessed the Calculating Bully trying to create a false sense of reality. If the adult bully is a former friend, they will encourage people to give you space for a season to let the dust settle on whatever conflict may have happened. The Calculating Bully knows this will land with you as the silent treatment and that’s the goal. In the workplace, this adult bully will purposefully steer other people away from inviting you to go out to lunch or after work together. The Calculating Bully enjoys the moment when you find out that you were excluded. In a family, this bully will flaunt their affection and often times, gifts, intended for other people in the family. You are never honored. Never celebrated. The Calculating Bully in a family with cut you off from the nurturing that all humans desire. This bully likes to see you long for what other family members are receiving right in front of you.
What are you to do if you have a Calculating Bully in your life? Quickly get away from them. Seriously. I know some situations are incredibly difficult to remove yourself from but every effort must be made to put as much distance between yourself and this form of adult bully.
Rarely do these bullies make lasting changes in their behaviors. That would require a tremendous amount of self-reflection and repetitious internal corrections in order to re-wire their internal compass.
A Calculated Bully doesn’t relate to other people in a normal way and that is why they can treat you so poorly. It is truly about them, and not you.
As a therapist, I believe it is therapeutic to engage in the simple of act of acknowledging what we know to be true. As you have read this blog, maybe a particular person has come to mind and you have begun to see that they are not only accusing and bitter, but their ugly actions are actually calculated. If you identified someone as a Calculated Bully, please say out loud the following:
I believe ____________________(name of person) is a Calculated Bully.
I believe he/she would like to see my life ruined.
I will stop giving ____________________(name of person) the benefit of the doubt each time I am hurt by her/him.
I will use everything available to me to put healthy distance between myself and ____________________(name of person).
I deserve to have people in my life who treat me with kindness and care.
My hope is that every Calculating Bully will face clear and solid boundaries from the people around them. It won’t change the bully’s toxic behaviors, but fewer people will have their lives negatively impacted. We must stop giving harmful people full access to our lives and hearts.
Keep dreaming big!
Disclaimer: For those of you who know me and my work around healing from abuse, please note that this blog is not about clinically abusive people (aka narcissists, sociopaths, or psychopaths). This series on adult bullies is about the other type of difficult people. The average garden-variety type of folks we run into out in the world.
The Different Types of Adult Bullies
This is the second post in a series on adult bullying. If you missed the first one on the topic, you can read it here at The Bitter Bully.
Who are these accusing adult bullies? They are individuals who, for some reason, need you to play the role of scapegoat. The accusing bully doesn’t know the real you. They know their distorted, constructed version of you. The accusing bully has created a false image in their head and since what we think is what we feel, they feel like you deserve their scrutiny. They might snap, be annoyed, and you have no idea why.
Now, we know not everyone is going to think we are fabulous. We sometimes just do not gel with certain personality types and that’s perfectly normal. The accusing bully doesn’t have an actual aversion to you. They have an aversion to how they see you. That’s the crazy-making part of being the target of an accusing bully.
When this happened to me, I found myself on the receiving end of someone saying that I was going to respond to conflict in a way that is not at all how I handle myself or disagreements. I thought this individual knew me well too so I was taken aback by their perceptions. It caused me to do some immediate soul searching. How do I carry myself in the world that I am perceived in such an incorrect way by this person? Was it incorrect or do I not know myself very well? Am I the type who would react the way this person expected me to? As you can see, the accusing bully can really challenge your views of yourself. At least for those of us who take the time to be self-reflective; in an effort to always be growing as individuals.
After spending time rattling around in my own thoughts, I asked a couple of people who knew me even better than the individual who was accusatory about my responses to conflict. Those closest to me confirmed that I didn’t have some false view of my conflict resolution skills. These conversations helped cement the idea that the accusing bully had their perceptions that had nothing to do with the real me.
Why do some people adopt a distorted view of us and do so on purpose? Yes, I do think the accusing bully chooses to paint an inaccurate picture of our character.
This is especially true if they should know better but still go ahead and scapegoat us. Watching this in my own life and with some of the clients I have worked with as a therapist, I believe that the accusing bully has a need to misunderstand us. Our role as scapegoat somehow works for them. Maybe they want to continue in their own unhealthy behaviors and if we can take some of the responsibility, then less ownership lands on their lap. Perhaps the accusing bully projects their own areas of growth onto us, rather than addressing their limitations. In the case of my accusing bully, I honestly believe that rather than taking a hard look at their own issues of conflict resolution, they projected outward and onto me. Luckily, I was able to catch this tactic and not allow their words to have a lasting impact on my view of myself.
What is the best way to address an accusing bully? You might try pointing out that you don’t see yourself in the way the bully is accusing. It is possible that you are going to get push back and a level of denial from them. If you are not able to openly discuss that you feel scapegoated, you may need to consider distancing yourself from the person. It is very difficult to have any level of authentic relationship with someone who feels the need to create a falsehood about you and then treats you differently because of the lies they have told themselves.
Keep dreaming big!
This political election has divided many friends and family members. Just to get a break from the heated rhetoric, people have had to unfriend their own parents or siblings on social media. Friendships have been severed and tension is present in the workplace. No time in recent history has a more divided ideology been present in our culture. We simply do not agree with the “other side” and cannot wrap our thoughts around how the opposing viewpoint can come to the conclusions that they have recently. Now, welcome to the holidays where we are expected to come out from behind our computer or phone screens and interact with people that we previously withdrew from out in cyberspace. Face to face, in the same physical space for hours or even days at a time. Heaven help us! I know many of you are nervous about it and with good reason, honestly.
If you find yourself dreading getting together with your family members who see life very differently than you do, let’s talk about some of your options and a few coping skills that might help.
#1: Just Don’t Go
You do have the right to say that given the tension that is already present because of this election, you are simply going to sit this holiday out. Your relatives might not like that decision but as an adult who has complete domain over themselves, you get to choose where and when you engage with people. This is especially true if these family members have been abusive or very ugly to you about your beliefs. There are consequences for being unkind to people and maybe you choosing to not join them is the feedback they need to hear.
#2 Set Boundaries Ahead of Time
If you decide that going is the best option for you, then maybe consider a family group text or email letting everyone know that you are looking forward to seeing them and under no circumstances do you plan to stay if anyone brings up the election. Weren’t we supposed to stay away from discussions of politics and religion anyways with people? This year has taken that etiquette suggestion and put it on steroids.
#3 Simple Answers
You have decided to go to the festivities, sent your group warning to talk about anything but the election (and religion), and someone decides to ignore your boundaries. What do you do? You could immediately put your fork down, stand up, and walk out but that’s a bit dramatic for most people. Let’s at least try to defuse and redirect before you grab your coat and head home. Simple replies such as the following might be helpful:
“My text (or email) was very clear. I am not talking about this. Thanks.”
“There are many opinions on this topic.”
“We will have to wait and see what happens.”
“Did you know the Cowboys are 9-1?” (that might only work in Texas but you could reply with a very random fact that shows you are not going to take the bait to get into a political argument.)
The absolute worst thing would be to start talking about the popular vote or protests or God’s specific opinion about America’s election. Back away, back away, back away.
#4 Don’t Drink Too Much and Don’t Stay Too Long
Get in, get out, and don’t get drunk. That’s actually really good advice for many of life’s situation but especially around the holidays in the middle of the social climate we have now. If you find yourself wondering how this holiday will go, then don’t stay too long and wear out your welcome. Quality and not quantity will be your friend. Maybe by Christmas tempers will have cooled and you can plan for a longer visit. Right now for Thanksgiving, let’s not add any new wounds. It might feel odd being a bit more formal and emotionally distant with your family, but I assure you it is a much better option than allowing emotions to spill over and letting it get out of hand.
I wish you well as we head into this holiday week and don’t forget self-care if your plans include extended periods of time with family who might want to drag you into discussions you do not want to have. My hope is that most people are more obnoxious while hiding behind their social media accounts and will soften as everyone sits down around the table to give thanks. If that doesn’t happen, know that you have the power and right to leave any environment that is not safe for you.
Happy almost Thanksgiving. I am thankful for each of you!
When a close friend shares with you that the pastor made uninvited sexual advances towards her and you argue that the pastor is a godly man and wouldn’t do such a thing, you just don’t care enough about protecting people against abuse in a religious community.
When you see bruises on your sister’s arm and know that her husband has a history of physically hurting her and you choose to not ask her about the bruises, you just don’t care enough to make things messy within the family.
When your young child tells you that the female babysitter is making him do things that are “scary” and you ignore his words because it’s more convenient for you to keep using the same sitter, you just don’t care enough to protect your child from harm.
When you see a co-worker being lied about and their career damaged because of the toxic behaviors of others, you just don’t care enough about workplace abuse to be part of the solution to stopping it.
When you know a friend plays psychologically abusive mind games with his girlfriend and is obviously causing her intense emotional distress, you just don’t care enough to stand up to the abuser and tell him you see the games he plays.
When you watch several family members scapegoat another member to the point of causing anxiety for the person, you just don’t care enough to be an ally to the abused individual because you don’t want to be targeted too.
When you know your friend’s wife chronically belittles and berates him to the point of causing him to be depressed, you just don’t care enough to tell him that he deserves to be treated better.
When you look the other way to abuse, exploitation, and discrimination you simply just don’t care enough.
Will you care enough when the tide of life shifts and you are the target?
Will someone else care enough about you and intervene?
What have you recently done to show that you are willing to stand in the gap for another person?
Or what have you done to send the message that you just don’t care?
What are you willing to do to stop abuse in all its forms?
Your answers to these questions will help shape the type of communities we all reside within.
Survivors, know that many of us do care. Many of us work tirelessly to loudly ring the warning bell that abusers walk among us. Many of us love you as sisters and brothers. Many of us believe that bad things did happen and were covered up by people who should have stood up for you. Many of us are you, a survivor, too.
It’s frightening when someone crosses the yellow line and drifts into your lane; coming at you head-on. This can apply to driving a car or emotionally. Emotionally? Yes. There are people who don’t know how to stay in their own lane of life and they cross relational boundaries. Typically I write about the experiences of being in contact with clinically toxic people but for today’s discussion, this sort of behavior can definitely take place from folks who are not personality disordered but just good old fashioned, rude.
We all should be aware of our actions and perhaps we have been guilty of swerving into someone else’s life lane when they never really ever asked us to. Definitely use this post as self-reflective but I really intend it as a resource to help us deal with those folks who feel the need to come at us in a way that is annoying, if not emotionally dangerous.
I have found myself murmuring in my own head thoughts like “My goodness, stay in your lane!” or something similar. I assume that if I am frustrated by encounters with these lane changing people, that surely someone else out there has experienced similar life intrusions. I have lately noticed two types of relational bad drivers and wanted to share them with you in the hope that if you encounter these sort of individuals, that you might not feel guilty getting off the same road as them.
The first scary driver is what I will call the Overstepping Their Role individual. This person might be a family member, friend, colleague, acquaintance, fellow church member or really any level of regular contact with them. Your first awareness that they have crossed the line with you is when you find yourself really irritated and can’t quite put your finger on exactly why. Perhaps you found yourself irritated and immediately knew why. If you encountered an Overstepper, they will have come at you as an expert of your life in some aspect. They may have tried to position themselves in a role of dominance to you or wanted to speak into your life in a way that you never previously opened the door to them. Let me pause here and say that we all need authenticity in our relationships and that includes hearing things that might be hard to hear. However! Those little nuggets of life truths must come from the people that we (and let me repeat WE) have welcomed into our lives in the role of adviser, mentor, leader, confidant or whatever we choose to call them.
The Overstepper does not have the right to position herself or himself in a role that we have not granted them. I highly encourage you to take swift action the very first time that the Overstepper shows their true colors. Sure, you can choose to clear up the fallout of the very first unwanted lane change. This will have you continuing to drive on the same road with them until the next time the Overstepper decides to go for Round 2 of undermining you. For me, I like the saying that says when someone shows you their true colors, believe them. I am long suffering with people who may have had a bad day or are just not themselves for a season but the Overstepper typically has been watching and waiting for just the right opportunity to position themselves in some headship role over you. No. Thank. You. Stay in your lane Overstepper!
The second type of relational bad driver, who likes to target your lane, is the Direct Hit person. Some of the characteristics of this individual include:
- Being the ultimate example of a “Frenemy” or “Famemy” (you know the oxymoron of friend/family and enemy because they behave like both, depending on how it suits their moods).
- Uses triangulation to exclude you from activities with other family members or friends. They get satisfaction from stealing relationships away from you and probably never even noticed someone until you did. Then the gloves come off and they purposefully set out to rob you of your connection with that other person.
- Gloats and gets pleasure from your failings. This is enjoyed by the Direct Hit person because they cannot be truly happy for other people’s successes. They dart over into your life lane with the purpose of knocking out your good things in order to feel better about themselves. They are the equivalent of the school bully but in an adult body.
- They purposefully create situations to make you look bad and then laugh at you in front of others. They have no problem publicly mocking you so others will not like you as much. The Direct Hit person believes this makes them more popular.
- They swing between being nice and a good companion, to hitting you head-on in an attempt to inflict some dings and scratches on your car. Stay in your lane, Direct Hit person!
Some of the behaviors of the Direct Hit person definitely can sound like a personality disordered individual and they just well might be. For the purposes of today, let’s just go with the idea that the Direct Hit person is to be avoided; regardless of any other underlying bigger issues.
Have you been cruising down your own life road and had one or both of these types of people try to cause damage to you? You are not alone. The next time you see the oncoming hit approaching, I highly suggest you flip on your blinker and make a right turn completely onto a new street. As you get away from them, roll down your windows, turn up the radio and sing along to a good song. Life is way to fun to waste time on the Overstepper or the Direct Hit person. Far too many other drivers know exactly how to stay in their lanes. Why continue on an unsafe road with people who don’t have the good sense to know their place in your life? Not a very wise idea for sure.